Simone Leigh Chosen to Represent U.S. at 2022 Venice Biennale

Simone Leigh has been chosen to represent the United States at the 2022 Venice Biennale. Her figural works will focus on female Black identity in history.

Oct 14, 2020By Charlotte Davis, BA Art History
Simone Leigh on site at Stratton Sculpture Studios photographed by Kyle Knodell, 2019, via Cultured Magazine (left); with Loophole of Retreat Exhibition by Simone Leigh, 2019, via the Guggenheim Museum, New York (right)


American sculptor Simone Leigh is set to be the U.S. representative at the 59th Venice Biennale. She will be the first black woman artist to represent the United States at the prestigious exhibition. 


Set to open in April 2022, the U.S. Pavilion is being commissioned by the Institute of Contemporary Art Boston with the cooperation of the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs under the supervision of Boston ICA’s director Jill Medvedow and chief curator Eva Respini. The ICA will then run an exhibition in 2023 which will also include Simone Leigh’s works from the Venice Biennale. 


Simone Leigh has created an indelible body of work that centers the experiences and histories of Black women and at such a crucial moment in history, I can think of no better artist to represent the United States,” said Medvedow about the choice. 


The Venice Biennale U.S. Pavilion

Brick House by Simone Leigh, photographed by Timothy Schneck, via High Line


Simone Leigh’s work for the 2022 Venice Biennale will feature a monumental bronze sculpture for the outdoor court of the Pavilion. The five galleries of the exhibition will also include a series of interrelated ceramic, raffia and bronze figural works, materials that have become central staples of Leigh’s work. Simone Leigh’s works for the Biennale will focus on Black women, expressing “what the artist calls an ‘incomplete archive’ of Black feminist thought,” said Respini. It will draw on several historical references. 


Get the latest articles delivered to your inbox

Sign up to our Free Weekly Newsletter

Simone Leigh is also partnering with the Atlanta University Center Art History + Curatorial Studies Collective, a Spelman College program that aims to integrate Black professionals into a historically white-dominant institutional track through the cultivation of scholars and curators. The partnership will be advised by Paul C. Ha, MIT List Center for Visual Arts director, and art historian Nikki Greene. 


Other artists chosen for the 2022 Venice Biennale include Sonia Boyce, the first black woman to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale; Yuki Kihara, the first artist of Pacific descent to represent New Zealand; Francis Alÿs representing Belgium; Marco Fusinato representing Australia; Stan Douglas representing Canada; Zineb Sedira representing France; Sakuliu Pavavaljung representing Taiwan, Füsun Onur representing Turkey; and Mohamed Ahmed Ibrahim representing the United Arab Emirates. 


Simone Leigh: Race, Gender And Identity In Sculpture

Loophole of Retreat Exhibition by Simone Leigh, 2019, via the Guggenheim Museum, New York


Simone Leigh is an American artist who works in various media, focusing on sculpture, installation art, performance art and video. Her artwork is self-described as auto-ethnographic and explores themes of Black female identity, feminism, African art history and postcolonialism. She earned a BA in art and philosophy from Earlham College in Indiana. Her artistic career was ignited when she was offered a 2010 Studio Museum in Harlem residency. 


Leigh has since created a prolific body of figurative and narrative artworks that acknowledge various aspects of Black history in both subtle and overt ways. Many of her works are large-scale sculptures. Some of them feature black bodies without eyes and ears, often combined with other external, non-human elements. She has also expanded into other media, including installations and videos. 


She has received several accolades in recent years. Her work recently set a new auction record with the selling of her sculpture DECATUR (COBALT) for $337,500 at a Sotheby’s Contemporary Curated Sale. She also won the $100,000 Hugo Boss Prize from the Guggenheim Museum in 2018. In 2019, she joined world-class art gallery, Hauser & Wirth. She has also exhibited at the Whitney Biennial, Berlin Biennale, Dak’Art Biennale of Contemporary Art, and many other significant institutions.

Author Image

By Charlotte DavisBA Art HistoryCharlotte is a contributing writer from Portland, Oregon now based in London, England. I’m an art historian with extensive knowledge in art history, classics, ancient art and archaeology.